Easy Roucou Seasoning Recipe (Achiote or Annatto Extract)

In Trinidad and Tobago, roucou is a liquid extract made with the seeds of the roucou tree (Bixa orellana). The seeds are covered in a red pigment that contains important antioxidant and antimicrobial compounds, namely bixin and norbixin (learn more about them here).

The liquid is used as a seasoning for meats, rice and other dishes and is often used as a natural, healthy substitute for browning sauce.

roucou seasoning with pods and seeds

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Ingredients for roucou

For this recipe, I used:

  • roucou pods: It’s really the seeds you need for the recipe, which you can find on Amazon here. I got fresh roucou pods in the market and each pod yielded about 2 grams of seeds. So, I used 12 pods and got about 24 grams of the seeds which measured about 1/4 cup. Feel free to scale up this recipe to make a large batch of homemade roucou.
  • warm water: this is needed to extract the red pigment from the seeds. Cool water can also be used, but warm water speeds up the extraction process.
  • salt: this is often used to ‘cure’ or preserve the roucou. If you are making small batches or plan to use the roucou within a month, then, you may not need to add salt. But, for a longer shelf life, salt is needed.
roucou pods and seeds
Roucou pods and seeds

Equipment for making roucou

The red pigment can stain your hands and surfaces so be sure to use food-grade gloves and stain resistant wares. You will also need a strainer for this recipe.

How to make homemade roucou

Homemade roucou usually requires 2 parts warm water per 1 part roucou seeds (also called annatto or achiote seeds). After the pigment is extracted, you can either add excessive amounts of salt to preserve the liquid or you can bring to a simmer on low heat for about 5 minutes and add a pinch of salt. I’ll be doing the latter.

Extract the seeds

Step 1: If you are using the roucou pods like me, squeeze both sides of the pod to pop it open. Pull apart each side.

opening roucou pods

Step 2: Using your fingers or a small spoon, remove the seeds from the roucou pod. If you are using roucou seeds from Amazon, you can skip steps 1 and 2. Remember roucou can stain so be sure to use gloves. Also, if you have extra seeds, place them in an airtight container and store in a dark cupboard or in the fridge to use later.

spooning out achiote seeds

Extract the pigment

Step 3: Add the roucou seeds and warm water to a small bowl (that won’t be stained). You can see streaking in the water as the pigment already starts to separate from the seeds.

add warm water to roucou seeds

Step 4: Using your hands (preferably while wearing gloves), rub the seeds together in the water to extract the pigment. The longer you do this, the more pigment will be extracted. I did this for about 10 minutes or so and you can see many seeds without the pigment (second photo).

rub roucou seeds and water
extracted roucou pigment

Step 5: Strain the liquid to remove the seeds and strain a second time to remove any fine bits. At this point, you can do one of two things: (1) you can move on to Step 6; or (2) you can add about 1 to 2 teaspoons of salt, bottle the roucou and store in a dark cupboard or in the fridge. I’m doing option (1) here.

strained roucou or achiote extract


Step 6: Pour the strained red liquid into a small pot. Place on the stove on low heat and simmer for about 5 minutes or so. The heating helps to disinfect the roucou, in the same way as adding excessive salt would, however, if you want to avoid the salt, heating is a great option. Note, while heating the roucou, it will darken in color slightly. Also, turn off the heat if it starts to boil.

simmer roucou liquid

Step 7: Add a pinch of salt to the roucou. Stir and turn off the heat. Set aside to cool for about 1 hour.

add salt to simmered roucou or achiote or annatto

Step 8: Once cooled, pour the roucou liquid into a sterilized bottle and store in the fridge. It can last for months in the fridge. Note, my recipe only makes 1/3 cup of roucou.

bottled roucou with pods and seeds

Homemade roucou recipe

roucou seasoning sauce featured image
Print Recipe
5 from 1 vote


Used as a seasoning for meats, rice and other dishes and as a natural, healthy substitute for browning sauce, this roucou recipe requires just 3 ingredients and about 10 minutes of active work.
Prep Time15 minutes
Cook Time5 minutes
Cooling Time1 hour
Total Time1 hour 20 minutes
Course: Sauce
Cuisine: Caribbean
Keyword: roucou
Servings: 0.3 cups
Author: Ros Singh


  • 1/4 cup roucou seeds (24 grams or 12 roucou pods)
  • 1/2 cup warm water
  • 1/4 tsp salt


  • food safe gloves
  • strainer


  • Open the pods by squeezing their sides together.
  • Remove the seeds using a small spoon or your fingers.
  • Add the seeds to a small bowl.
  • Pour warm water over the seeds.
  • Mix and rub the seeds to remove the red pigment (about 10 minutes).
  • Strain the mixture.
  • Strain again.
  • Place a small pot on the stove on low heat.
  • Pour the roucou liquid into the pot.
  • Allow to simmer for 5 minutes.
  • Mix in salt.
  • Turn off the heat.
  • Allow to cool for 1 hour.
  • Bottle and refrigerate.


  • The red pigment stains so wear gloves and use stain resistant wares.
  • If the liquid begins to boil while simmering, turn off the heat.
  • You can skip heating the roucou and, instead, add 1 to 2 teaspoons of salt to the mixture before bottling.

One Comment

  1. 5 stars
    This came out great. I always wanted to try making my own and now I tried it for myself.

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